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How mentorship and networking shape NFP careers

Julia van Zon
Julia van Zon
Written on the 22 December 2023

Networking and mentorship stand as powerful engines driving career success. They also serve as strategic keys to unlocking opportunities and fostering career growth within the Not-For-Profit (NFP) sector.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) registered more than 57,000 NFP organisations as of 2022, reflecting the NFP sector’s dynamic and expansive nature. Amidst this richness and diversity, networking and mentorship are indispensable tools that can propel individuals towards remarkable career achievements.

Networking in the NFP sector

Networking is the process of establishing and nurturing professional relationships. According to a study by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI), over 60% of NFP professionals identified networking as a critical factor in their career progression.

How networking supports career success

  1. Expands professional contacts: networking helps build a professional web of contacts in the NFP sector. These contacts can be beneficial for future collaborations, partnerships, job opportunities, or simply for advice on sector-related issues.
  2. Facilitates knowledge sharing: networking events serve as a platform for professionals to exchange ideas, experiences, and knowledge. This shared knowledge can be instrumental in problem-solving and improving practices within an individual’s organisation.
  3. Boosts visibility: regular participation in networking events increases visibility within the NFP sector. This visibility can lead to more opportunities for career advancement.
  4. Improves skill sets: networking can lead to opportunities for skills development. For instance, one might learn about a relevant workshop or training through their network.
  5. Provides access to industry trends: staying updated with the latest trends and advancements in the NFP sector is crucial. Networking with other professionals can provide insights into these trends, helping individuals stay ahead in their careers.

Mentorship in the NFP Sector

Mentorship, on the other hand, is a relationship in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person guides a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. In the NFP sector, a mentor can provide guidance on developing essential skills, navigating challenges, and seizing opportunities.

Findings from a National Survey of CEOs’ report by the Centre for Social Impact in 2020 highlighted a significant number of NFP leaders (more than 65%) reported they had a mentor at some point in their career, demonstrating the widespread recognition of the value of mentorship in the sector.

How mentorship supports career success

  1. Enhances skill development: mentors can guide mentees in honing crucial skills for their roles. They may provide constructive feedback, share their own experiences, and offer strategies for improvement.
  2. Aids in navigating challenges: the NFP sector presents unique challenges. Mentors, with their wealth of experience, can provide valuable advice on how to navigate these challenges.
  3. Boosts confidence: having a mentor can boost an individual’s confidence. This is because mentors provide reassurance and guidance, helping mentees make informed decisions and take calculated risks.
  4. Fosters personal and professional growth: mentorship isn’t only about professional growth. Mentors can also help mentees with personal development, by assisting them in setting and achieving personal goals that align with their career aspirations.
  5. Increases career satisfaction: research has indicated that individuals who have mentors are more satisfied with their careers. This satisfaction can lead to increased job performance and career progression.

Networking and Mentorship – a symbiotic relationship

Networking and mentorship in the NFP sector often go hand in hand. An extensive network can lead to finding a mentor or becoming one, while a mentor can introduce their mentee to an existing network of professionals.

The symbiosis of networking and mentorship cultivates a vibrant community in the NFP sector, one where professionals support and learn from each other. This community not only aids individual career success but also strengthens the sector.

Overcoming Barriers

Despite the clear advantages, networking, and mentorship in the NFP sector are not always straightforward. Professionals often encounter several barriers that can hinder these processes. These challenges include geographical distance, time constraints, lack of structured programs, and the sector’s inherent diversity.

  • Geographical distance: for those working in remote or regional areas, networking can be challenging due to physical distances. However, the rise of digital platforms is making it easier for NFP professionals across Australia to connect, regardless of location. Initiatives like the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s programs have made significant strides in overcoming this barrier, focusing on developing leaders in rural and regional Australia. Moreover, the increased acceptance of remote working and online collaboration, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has further reduced the impact of geographical barriers.
  • Time constraints: NFP professionals often juggle multiple roles and responsibilities, leaving little time for networking and mentorship activities. Here, efficient time management and prioritisation play a crucial role. Taking advantage of online networking events and making use of digital tools for mentorship can also help overcome this barrier. For instance, scheduling regular virtual catch-ups with a mentor can be a time-efficient way of maintaining this beneficial relationship.
  • Lack of structured programs: not all NFP organisations have formal mentorship programs in place. This lack can be a significant barrier for those seeking mentorship. However, many external programs are available. Additionally, professionals can seek informal mentorship relationships within their existing network.
  • Sector’s inherent diversity: the NFP sector in Australia is incredibly diverse, spanning a wide range of causes, communities, and activities. This diversity can sometimes make it difficult to find networking opportunities or mentors with relevant experience. However, this diversity can also be a strength. By reaching out across the breadth of the sector, NFP professionals can gain a broader perspective and learn from a wide range of experiences.

These barriers may present challenges, they are not insurmountable. By embracing digital tools, seeking out both formal and informal mentorship opportunities, and leveraging the sector’s diversity, NFP professionals can fully engage in networking and mentorship activities, reaping the benefits for their career growth.

The synergy of networking and mentorship

The power of networking and mentorship in the NFP sector lies in their synergy. Networking can lead to mentorship opportunities, and mentorship can broaden one’s network. When combined, these two elements form a robust foundation for career success.

However, it’s crucial to remember that successful networking and mentorship require active engagement. The more an individual invests in building relationships and seeking guidance, the more they stand to gain.

The importance of networking and mentorship in the Australian NFP sector cannot be overstated. They are critical tools for career progression, offering numerous benefits that foster personal and professional growth. By prioritising these practices, NFP professionals can successfully navigate their career paths and contribute more effectively to their communities.

Julia van Zon

Julia van Zon

Julia van Zon is the Marketing and Communications Manager of Meritos, an executive search and recruitment business partnering with purpose-driven organisations. If you're interested in connecting with Julia, you contact her at [email protected]
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1. Describe your ideal working environment.

2. What do you enjoy about your current workplace?

3. How does a manager get the best out of you?

4. Describe the best team that you’ve ever worked in.

The reasons why I ask these questions:

1. Reason

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